Representing Parents in Child Protection Cases: A Basic Handbook for Lawyers

Download printable version (PDF) (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Last revised: July 2003

OVERVIEW

The Maine law governing child protection cases is the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, 22 M.R.S.A.§4001 et seq. The governing federal statutes and regulations are the Adoption and Safe Families Act, 42 U.S.C. §670 et seq. and 45 C.F.R. §1356 et seq. Jurisdiction over child protection cases lies with the Maine District Court with any appeals going directly to the Supreme Judicial Court. In 1999, the Supreme Judicial Court adopted a Case Management Procedure for Child Protective Cases. The procedure, which may be found in the Maine Rules of Court, is designed to help the District Court meet its obligations under federal and state law.

The State agency handling child protection cases is the Maine Department of Human Services (hereafter referred to as the Department or DHS). DHS child protective caseworkers help families work toward outcomes that increase their children’s safety, investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and file Petitions for Child Protection with the court when DHS believes the children are in jeopardy despite the Department’s intervention. DHS children’s services caseworkers are responsible for providing services to parents and children once children have been placed in DHS custody. After a judicial determination of abuse or neglect a children’s services caseworker generally assumes the supervision of the case from the child protective worker. DHS also has adoption workers who are responsible for handling cases following termination of parental rights unless the permanent plan for the child does not involve adoption.

The State is represented in court by the Office of the Attorney General (hereafter referred to as the Assistant Attorney General or A.A.G.). Parents are automatically appointed counsel following the initial filing of a child protection petition with the court. This appointment of counsel is temporary; in order to qualify for continuing court appointed counsel each parent must complete an indigency affidavit and file it with the court. Additionally, when a petition is filed, a Guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child. Court appointed counsel and guardians are paid for by the State after vouchers are submitted. The hourly rate for court appointed counsel is set by the Supreme Judicial Court. Parents who are not found to be indigent or who do not fill out the indigency affidavit must retain their own counsel or proceed on a pro se basis without the assistance of an attorney.

If a finding of abuse and/or neglect (ie., a jeopardy finding) is made by the court, whether by hearing or agreement of the parties, cases must be scheduled for a review at least every six months. Often an earlier review date is set to keep a case on track. For cases in which the parties do not agree as to the existence of jeopardy, the court schedules the case for hearing or trial. In some courts, clerks send out advance notice of potential child protection trial dates so the parties can plan for trials. Other courts simply send out a specific trial list indicating the exact place and time of trial for each case, sometimes with just a few weeks’ notice to the parties. It is an attorney’s obligation to file a request for protection or to file a continuance motion as needed according to deadlines set by the court.

The first three to six months are often a good indicator of whether a child will return to the parent’s custody early in the case. If a trial placement in the home isn’t on the horizon in the first three to six months, an attorney can expect to represent a parent for about 18 months. If after a final hearing the case is dismissed or the parent’s rights are terminated, the attorney is relieved of the obligation to continue to represent the parent. If there is an alternative planned arrangement, such as long term placement for the child, the attorney may continue to represent the parent until the child turns 18, even though the case may be inactive except for regular judicial reviews.

Accepting the case/what to do first

  1. Check for conflicts before accepting the case. Child protection cases frequently have numerous parties and witnesses. Get the relevant information including the name of the child protective worker, and the names of the mother, father and child/children from the court or financial screener at the time of the initial appointment.
  2. Check your calendar before accepting the case. Be sure you are available for the first scheduled hearing date. If a preliminary protection order is in effect, you can expect the summary preliminary hearing (SPH) to be within 7-14 days from the date of initial filing of the petition.
  3. Find your client. Start the search as soon as you accept the case because it can take some time; don’t wait for the physical notice of appointment to come in the mail. Again, get as much information as possible with the initial appointment; at the very least learn which caseworker is involved. Call the Department caseworker for the client’s telephone number or address. If the caseworker doesn’t return your call in a timely manner, try their supervisor. If the supervisor isn’t available, speak with a duty worker. If the client doesn’t have a telephone, get the client’s address and visit him/her. If your client is incarcerated, learn visiting hours. Request a Writ to transport your client from jail to court by calling the Clerk’s office. (Do this for each court proceeding while the client is incarcerated.)
  4. Meet the client. If the case is scheduled for a SPH, meet the client immediately. Do not wait until the scheduled hearing to meet the client. If the child has just been removed from the home against the parent’s wishes, expect the client to be emotional and angry.

    At this first meeting explain the basics to the client, just enough so the client understands the SPH process and purpose. Explain their rights and what they should expect to happen in the courtroom. Discuss and decide whether there will be a Summary Hearing on the Preliminary Protection Order (PPO) or whether the client will agree to allow the Temporary Order to remain in effect and waive their right to a hearing. If the client chooses to waive hearing, advise the client that the waiver will not prejudice the client, no one will think the client is a bad parent, and the client does not lose any rights nor does the court make any findings (except the possibility of the child returning home immediately). Arrange for a longer interview later at which you can learn more about the client and the family’s circumstances.

Develop a time line

  1. If the case is scheduled for a SPH, the hearing must be held within 7 - 14 days of the granting of the Preliminary Protection Order (PPO).
  2. If a parent is not served prior to the SPH, they have ten days to request a Summary Hearing.
  3. Unless the Petition for Protection is dismissed following the SPH, a Case Management Conference will be held, usually within 30 to 40 days.
  4. A Jeopardy Order must be entered within 120 days of the Petition being filed.
  5. If reasonable efforts to reunify are required:
    • A Judicial Review must be held every six months (sometimes more often).
    • A Permanency Hearing is required within 12 months after the child entered care.
    • A Petition to Terminate Parental Rights must be filed when the child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. (This is not required if the child is placed with a relative, there is a “compelling reason” why termination would not be in the child’s best interest or, arguably, if reasonable efforts to reunify have not been made.) See 22 M.R.S.A. §4052.

      If reasonable efforts to reunify are not required. A Permanency Hearing must commence within 30 days.

      A Petition to Terminate Parental Rights, or TPR, must be filed within 60 days if the court finds an aggravating factor. See 22 M.R.S.A. §4002(1-B) (defining aggravating factor).

Proceedings/Hearings

  1. Summary Preliminary Hearing or SPH. This is scheduled when the Court has granted the Department’s ex parte request for a Temporary Order giving immediate custody of the child to the Department.

    The issue to be determined is whether the child is in immediate risk of serious harm. The state must prove this by a preponderance of evidence. If it does not, the child returns home.

    This is a “summary” hearing. Testimony may be limited to that of the caseworker, parent, guardian ad litem, and care giver. Testimony, reports and records that would otherwise be inadmissible as hearsay evidence are allowed in if reliable and relevant.

    Explain to the client that you may lose the hearing given the preponderance standard and the admissibility of hearsay, and that if you lose the client still has the right to a Jeopardy Hearing. Evidence admitted at the SPH, which would otherwise be inadmissible hearsay, is not admissible at the Jeopardy Hearing or in any other proceeding. Findings made at the SPH based on this evidence are not admissible. 22 M.R.S.A. §4034-A.

    Parents may waive a SPH if they do not wish to contest the Department’s actions in immediately removing the child.
    If a parent is not served prior to the SPH, the parent may choose to waive service and proceed with hearing or agreement.

    A non-custodial parent’s right to be heard on the issues of “immediate risk” and disposition may differ from the custodial parent’s rights at the SPH, but the state is still required ultimately to prove jeopardy in regard to the non-custodial parent.

    If the Court’s Preliminary Order includes a finding of an aggravating factor, the court may relieve the Department of its obligation to provide reunification services. If this happens, the Jeopardy hearing must be held within thirty days. 22 M.R.S.A. §4034.

    Do your best to make sure the parent leaves the courthouse after the SPH knowing what day and time and where they will see their child(ren). Do not leave it up to the caseworker to contact the client later. It is important to set up a visit schedule or at least to get a first visit scheduled. Consider delaying any agreement until the minimum visit schedule is worked out. Caseworkers may be able to call their case aides from the courthouse to make visit arrangements. (Best practice is to notify the A.A.G. of your expectation regarding visitation before the scheduled hearing time notwithstanding 22 M.R.S.A. §4034 sec. 6.)

    Regarding services for your client, it is very important to stay on top of what services have been ordered and who is arranging them.

    Have the client complete a child protection financial affidavit and file it with the court that day or the client risks losing court appointed counsel.

  2. A Case Management Conference is the next appearance at Court after the SPH. The purpose is to clarify disputed issues, review possibility of settlement, and conduct a pre-trial for the Jeopardy Hearing. Be prepared to provide the number and identity of witnesses. Have your client present so you may meaningfully discuss settlement with the State and so your client understands the court’s expectations.

  3. Jeopardy Hearing The issue for hearing is whether the child is in circumstances of jeopardy to his/her health or welfare. The Court must ”make a fresh determination” of jeopardy and cannot give preclusive effect to findings made at the prior SPH. 22 M.R.S.A. §4035 (2). The standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence.

    If there is no finding of Jeopardy, custody of the child is returned to or remains with the custodial parent. The case is dismissed. The Department may continue to work with the family if the family agrees; they may refile a new Petition any time. Depending on the client’s issues and how quickly they may be resolved, best practice may be to advise the client to accept services from the Department to avoid another Petition in the future and to get help now before a problem gets worse.

    If there is a finding of Jeopardy, the second issue to be determined is what should be done to alleviate the jeopardy; i.e. the disposition. The court may order that the child be placed or remain in the Department’s custody, that the parent receive evaluations and / or services, that child support be paid, etc. The court cannot order the Department to place the child with the parent if the child is in the Department’s custody. The Court may order the Department to place the child with a third party. It is helpful to negotiate a disposition, in advance, with the A.A.G., in the event of a Jeopardy finding. If there is no aggravating factor the Department is obligated to provide reunification services.

    A Jeopardy Order is a final judgment and may be appealed directly to the Law Court on an expedited basis.

  4. Judicial Reviews must be held every six months after the entry of a Jeopardy Order in most cases. Any party has the right to request a review sooner. Depending on the court’s schedule, it may be prudent to request a three-month review when setting the next date to make sure your client is receiving services and visits. At the Judicial Review you should bring to the court’s attention any obstacles to reunification, such as lack of reasonable efforts, visitation schedule frequency, placement options, etc. Ask the court to compel the Department to devote more time and energy to the case when appropriate. Judicial Review Orders are not appealable.

  5. A Permanency Hearing must be conducted within 12 months of the child’s entry into foster care. A child is considered to have entered foster care on the date of the first judicial finding that the child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or on the 60th day after the child is removed from the home, whichever occurs first. 22 M.R.S.A. § 4041.
    The issue for hearing is whether custody of the child will be returned to the parent, whether the child should be placed for adoption (in which case the Department must file a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights), whether the child should be referred for legal guardianship or whether the child should be placed in an “alternative permanent planned living arrangement.” Long-term foster care is not a permanent plan.

    The Permanency Hearing is a crucial stage of the case. It may result in a decision which will sever the parent-child relationship. To be successful in arguing for the continued goal of reunification, the court must be convinced that there remains a strong bond between parent and child and that the parent is making significant progress. Be prepared to demonstrate a positive visit record and progress with services.

  6. Termination of Parental Rights, or TPR. The issue at hearing is whether the parent is unfit, and if so, whether termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.

    The Court must first find that the State has proven one of the four bases of parental unfitness by clear and convincing evidence before it considers the best interests of the child. In re Melanie S., 1998 ME 132, ¶ 4,712 A.2d 1036, 1037.

    The state will focus on the criteria outlined in 22 M.R.S.A. §4055. The parent must convince the court that the child can return home (now, soon, eventually) because the parent is not unfit (ie., the parent has made necessary changes to eliminate or ameliorate the causes and factors that placed the children in jeopardy). If the court denies the petition, DHS continues to provide reunification services. If the court determines the parent to be unfit, the court may deny the petition on the basis that it is not in the child’s best interest.

    Issues that may be raised when arguing that TPR and adoption are not in the child’s best interest include the degree that the child is bonded with the birth parent; whether the child would be harmed if the bond to the birth parent is broken; whether the child has expressed a desire to be adopted; whether the child needs to participate in birth parent / child therapy to address past trauma; the child’s therapist’s position on adoption; and whether ongoing contact with the birth parent is in the child’s best interest.

    The inquiry at the termination hearing concerning parental unfitness and/or inability or unwillingness to protect the child from jeopardy is prospective. The evidence to be considered at hearing is retrospective. In re Nathaniel B., 1998 ME 99, ¶ 6,710 A.2d 922, 922.

    Involuntary termination of parental rights may be an “aggravating factor” in a future child protection proceeding involving another child. Discuss with the client the consequences of a voluntary versus involuntary termination. Be sure the client understands that a voluntary termination is final and irrevocable. Consider putting this in writing to the client and keeping a copy for your file.

    Discuss with your client possible options / alternatives such as whether relatives might be considered as placement options. Relatives can provide permanent homes for children. This can be through adoption or legal guardianship. Legal guardianship suspends the parent’s custodial rights but allows the parent to continue to play a role in the child’s life. Legal guardianship is pursued through Probate Court. It has limitations because 1.) Maine does not have subsidized guardianship (ie. no funds are provided for services or basic care), and 2.) the Department might be reluctant to dismiss the protective case because the guardianship could potentially be modified later in Probate Court. However, it may be a better option for families and children because it keeps relationships intact and doesn’t require a formal familial split.

    Consider whether the client should negotiate for some rights in exchange for a voluntary termination. This may include signing an immediate Consent to Adoption in Probate Court, effective until adoption; and executing a simultaneous Parental Rights and Responsibilities Stipulation in District Court granting the birth parent “third party” rights of contact. A settlement may be preferable to a multi day termination trial, especially when the child is in a pre-adoptive home and the pre-adoptive parent understands that maintaining a relationship with a birth parent may be in the child’s best interest, or at a minimum, that the child may have questions for the birth parent later in life.

    A Termination Order is a final judgment and may be appealed directly to the Law Court on an expedited basis.

What to do between each stage of the case

  1. Explain to the client, clearly and several times, that the client has very little time to convince the Judge that the problems which led to the removal of the child from the home have been rectified. Often this means less than 12 months to change behavior that the client may not even believe affects the children. Make sure that you review the reunification plan with the client and that he/she agrees with the specifics. Explain to the client that the chances of the Department dismissing the case are slim to none if the client: misses visits, misses appointments, fails to establish and maintain stable housing, fails to appear in court, fails to keep their whereabouts known, continues substance abuse, engages in criminal conduct, allows contact with an alleged offender / abuser, refuses to cooperate at some level with the Department, spends time with inappropriate companions, fails to demonstrate insight into the child’s needs and/or in any way fails to comply with the reunification plan.
  2. Make efforts to maintain contact and communicate with the client. Mail copies of court orders and other correspondence to the client. Communicate regularly with the caseworker, the Guardian ad litem, visit supervisors and service providers. Promote a productive relationship with the parties, especially the A.A.G. and the Guardian ad litem, because this may facilitate negotiated settlements. Document your efforts and actions in your file.
  3. Meet with the client and caseworker to develop or update the reunification / family / service plan at least every 3 months.
  4. Review the Department file before each court appearance; at a minimum request the updated narrative be faxed / delivered / overnighted to you before the court appearance. Contact the caseworker’s supervisor or A.A.G if the information is not received in a timely manner. If there is an outside agency handling the day-to-day case management, make sure you get the updated information. You should expect to receive the same information the Department receives. Determine whether a formal request for discovery is necessary. If there are problems getting full access to any file, file a discovery request and seek a telephone conference with the judge or request an immediate Judicial Review, by teleconference if necessary, bearing in mind to always preserve the record.
  5. Learn about the specific issues in your case. Your credibility will be enhanced if you demonstrate an understanding of the effects of family violence on children, the basics of mental health diagnoses, child development, psychological evaluations, substance abuse, sexual abuse, the pros and cons of foster care, kinship care, guardianship, alternative planned permanent living arrangements and so on. Do not expect to be compensated for learning time.

Negotiating a Settlement

After having thoroughly informed your client of alternatives and consequences, the client makes the decision to contest or negotiate a settlement. This decision should be based on the chances of prevailing at hearing and the goals the client seeks to achieve. It may be in the parent’s best interest to negotiate a settlement rather than have the Judge make certain findings. Areas to negotiate include specific findings of Jeopardy, the Department’s reasonable efforts, the presence of an aggravating factor, whether reunification efforts are required and the disposition. Each time the case is reviewed by the Court, there will either be an agreement / Order placed on the record or a pre-trial conference will be conducted and the matter placed on the trial list.

Preparing

  1. Know the case law.
  2. Put yourself in the A.A.G.’s shoes and anticipate their case. Know in advance the position of the State’s witnesses. Call as witnesses the child’s therapist, teacher and other state witnesses if they support your client. Let the A.A.G. know in advance that you will do this so the A.A.G. will encourage open dialogue with their skittish witnesses. Don’t intimidate or cross examine a witness on the telephone.
  3. Prepare your closing argument first. Determine what evidence you need to get on the record in order to make the closing. Develop needed evidence / testimony / witness lists. Potentials: client’s counselor if not obviously biased, visit supervisor, parenting instructor or other service providers, teachers, child’s therapist if recommending parent contact, family therapist, etc. Prepare and condense witness outlines.
  4. Develop a plan or theory of the case. Share the plan or theory with the client. Help the client to understand what needs to come out in the parent’s testimony. Teach the parent how to testify. Suggest dress and manner. Get into a courtroom and have the parent sit on the witness stand for practice if necessary.
  5. Get the Witness and Exhibit list out on time, pursuant to the Pretrial Order. File original with the Court, copies to all parties, including Intervenors. Reserve the right to call those witnesses listed but not actually called by other parties. Determine who will actually be called by the A.A.G. and / or who you must subpoena. Determine, in advance, on the record, who will subpoena and pay for “expert witnesses,” authors of reports to be introduced, therapists, etc.
  6. The moving party has the burden of proof. The standard for each stage is “by a preponderance” except “clear and convincing” at termination.

Having the hearing

  1. Help the Judge like you and like your client. Be organized. Don’t ask the Judge to wait. Don’t be repetitive. Tell the Judge where you’re going in the opening statement and then go there. Maintain an agreeable courtroom demeanor, especially to the A.A.G. Don’t object too much. Keep your client quiet; give them a pad of paper and pen. Provide demonstrative aids when possible.
  2. Expert witness: present the curriculum vitae as evidence. ”Would your answers to my questions about your experience/education be consistent with this CV?” Never stipulate to your own expert’s expertise.
  3. Do not change strategies in the middle.
  4. Do not cross-examine just to repeat the direct. Do not cross-examine an expert unless you really know the subject.
  5. Preserve all relevant issues for appeal.
  6. Do not allow an undue delay in disposition or it may cause a delay in services for the client.
  7. Bring your lunch, water and headache medication.

Ethical Issues

  1. Zealous representation and competence. Challenge and test the Department’s version of the facts. Conduct an independent investigation. Conduct limited formal discovery if needed. Apprise the client of alternatives and the accompanying consequences and obligations. Help your client make informed decisions. Interview and subpoena witnesses. Research legal issues. Familiarize yourself with controlling statutes and rules. The responsibility of parent’s counsel is to represent the parent and protect their legal rights; not act in the child’s best interest. Counsel the parent to cooperate and accept appropriate services as soon as possible. It is not necessary to be an obstructionist or confrontational. Work to promote reunification; recognize the child’s needs and assure that the parent and child receive services to address those needs. Document your efforts and actions.
  2. Specialized Standards of Representation for parent’s counsel:
    • Meet and communicate regularly with the client, explaining procedures, time lines, alternatives and consequences.
    • Advocate for the parent to receive appropriate services and for DHS to make good faith efforts to seek the participation of the parents in pursuit of the rehabilitation and reunification plan.
    • Do not cause or allow delays in services or Judicial Reviews.
    • Independently investigate, thoroughly prepare, resolve or litigate and otherwise consider parental loss of custody cases as deserving your best efforts.
    • If standards similar to these are not followed you may be vulnerable to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel requiring vacating an Order. Always DOCUMENT your efforts and actions.
  3. You can not represent both parents; they will have adverse interests.
  4. Do not allow your client to lie in the courtroom. Warn your client in advance that you are bound by the rules and what the consequences could be if the client insists on lying in the courtroom.
  5. Know your obligation if you become aware that the parent is committing a crime, such as abusing a child.
  6. Maintain confidentiality. Do not freely discuss fact patterns; never mention names. Be careful of cell phone use.
  7. A lawyer’s obligation to the client is not diminished by the client’s incapacity or disability, whether based on age, mental disorder or other. Disclosure of the client’s disability may adversely affect the client’s interests.
  8. Reread Rule 11 of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure

Miscellaneous Rules / Issues

  1. Child protection proceedings are governed by the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure and Maine Rules of Evidence, with exceptions, that include:
    • The child hearsay exception, which allows the out of court statement of a child to be admitted into evidence through another person. 22 M.R.S.A. §4007(2). If a child discloses through a teacher, the child’s statement is admitted through the testimony of the teacher. This exception includes statements by a child other than the child who is the subject of the petition. 22 M.R.S.A. §4007.
    • Physician and psychotherapist-patient and husband-wife privileges are abrogated in relation to “cooperating with the Department or guardian ad litem” and “giving evidence in a child protective proceeding.” 22 M.R.S.A §4015.
  2. Access to records and participation in proceedings. Foster parent, grandparent, interested person, participant and intervenor are persons who may be granted various access and participation rights depending on their status. 22 M.R.S.A. §4005-D. A parent may argue against a request by a third party for special status because of the confidentiality of the proceedings, the early stage of the case and/or because the request is “inconsistent with the Act.” A parent’s best argument against a third party being granted “Intervenor” status is failure to meet the requirements of the Civil Rules, particularly the first line of Rule 24 (a) or the first line of 24 (b). A legal ‘interest’ does not mean an emotional interest. Most third parties may be specifically excluded from a hearing by the judge. A parent’s argument to exclude a third party at trial is stronger if the parent intends to call the person as a witness and has served a subpoena.
  3. Explore whether relatives may be considered as placement options, early and often. When a relative is out of state, ask the Department to initiate the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) process. See 22 M.R.S.A.§ 4191 et seq. These investigations of out of state homes usually take several months but can be done on an expedited basis, in some cases, upon motion. The expedited ICPC takes about one month. If the Department refuses to comply, argue lack of reasonable efforts.
  4. Concurrent planning. At the same time the Department is providing “reasonable efforts” to reunify the family, “concurrent planning” for an alternative end result is allowed. For example, a concurrent plan of adoption may be developed. The purpose of this is to have a back up plan in place if the parent fails to rectify the underlying problems. Explain this to the client.
  5. Reasonable efforts. The state must make “reasonable efforts” to prevent the need to remove the child from the home. Once a child is removed, the state must make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunify the family. What is “reasonable” depends on the circumstances of each case. A parent could argue that a ”safety assessment” by a caseworker, alone, is not reasonable efforts to prevent the need to remove the child from the home in a neglect case. Parent’s counsel should pay special attention to the “reasonable efforts” language in a proposed Order.
  6. If the parent is disabled, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act or has other access issues, know what is required before you walk into a courtroom. (Delaying the SPH until an interpreter is available is a violation of the A.D.A. Popovich v. Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas,. 276 F.3d 808, 817 (6th Cir. 2002).
  7. If the parent is a minor, be prepared to articulate your position on whether a Guardian ad litem should be appointed to represent your client’s best interest; whether a legal guardian needs to be appointed by the Probate Court; or whether there should be an expedited, consolidated emancipation matter with separate counsel appointed. A Guardian ad litem’s recommendations could contradict counsel’s arguments in protecting the minor parent’s legal rights.

    If the parent is unable to assist you or participate in the defense of the case due to cognitive or other deficiencies, consider requesting a Guardian ad litem for your client.

    Document and be prepared to articulate the reasoning behind your argument for or against the appointment of a Guardian ad litem. At a minimum your argument should be based on an assessment of the client’s ability to make decisions, consider alternatives, understand risks and consequences and communicate her/his wishes.
  8. If the parent is a member of or qualifies as a member of a Native American Tribe or nation, be familiar with the Indian Child Welfare Act requirements. See 25 U.S.C. §1901 et seq.
  9. All Department policies directing decision making by caseworkers and supervisors are available to the public on the DHS website.
  10. A “legal summary,” usually prepared by the Department caseworker, is not admissible over objection. Generally a “case plan” is admissible but always review prior to admission for inappropriate “caseworker commentary.”

 

Do's and Don'ts

  1. Do not get personal and do not take it personally. Do not internalize the case. Learn to keep your distance. Remember that the child who is the subject of the proceeding is not your child. Do not share your personal life with a client. Be respectful of other’s positions. Agree to disagree. Try to maintain cordial relationships with those involved because there will be another case another day.
  2. Submit a voucher after every court appearance. If you go over the limit, send an accompanying explanation letter with the voucher. If your voucher is cut, write a letter requesting an explanation to avoid problems getting paid in the future.
  3. Carry the child protection statute with you every time you enter the courtroom. Read the statute. Read the Law Court cases regularly. (Print them off the Web, carry them around, read them while waiting.)

Conclusion

Child Protection cases are among the most difficult any lawyer will handle in his or her career. Representing parents in child protection cases is especially challenging. Because of the complexity of child protection cases, new lawyers should consult with experienced attorneys before attempting to represent parents in child protection cases on their own.

On behalf of Maine’s children and families thank you for serving in this important role.

Funded by the Maine Court Improvement Project
Printed by the Administrative Office of the Courts